Do Software Developers Understand Open Source Licenses?

TitleDo Software Developers Understand Open Source Licenses?
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsAlmeida, Daniel A., Murphy Gail C., Wilson Greg, and Hoye Mike
Secondary Title2017 IEEE 25th International Conference on Program Comprehension (ICPC)
Pagination1-11
Date Published05/2017
Keywordslicense, Survey
Abstract

—Software provided under open source licenses is
widely used, from forming high-profile stand-alone applications
(e.g., Mozilla Firefox) to being embedded in commercial offerings
(e.g., network routers). Despite the high frequency of use of open
source licenses, there has been little work about whether software
developers understand the open source licenses they use. To our
knowledge, only one survey has been conducted, which focused
on which licenses developers choose and when they encounter
problems with licensing open source software. To help fill the
gap of whether or not developers understand the open source
licenses they use, we conducted a survey that posed development
scenarios involving three popular open source licenses (GNU GPL
3.0, GNU LGPL 3.0 and MPL 2.0) both alone and in combination.
The 375 respondents to the survey, who were largely developers,
gave answers consistent with those of a legal expert’s opinion in
62% of 42 cases. Although developers clearly understood cases
involving one license, they struggled when multiple licenses were
involved. An analysis of the quantitative and qualitative results of
the study indicate a need for tool support to help guide developers
in understanding this critical information attached to software
components.

Notes

Data: We report on the results of a survey that asked
developers about 42 different cases of the use of code under
different open source licenses. To make the survey tractable
for developers to answer, we focused on three popular open
source licenses (GNU GPL 3.0, GNU LGPL 3.0 and MPL
2.0)

Findings: The survey results indicate that most of the 375 respondents
to our survey struggle with understanding the interaction of
open source licenses in both simple and complex software
development cases

DOI10.1109/ICPC.2017.7